Afghanistan & Obama
Congratulations on the excellent coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan in your November 9 special issue, "Obama’s Fateful Choice." Counterinsurgency has fascinated Western policy-makers since at least World War II, but it has almost always failed. The reason is simply that we and other defenders of indefensible regimes can never "be to the people as the fish is to water," as Mao Zedong said. Even George Will recognizes that. It is tragic that President Obama is temporizing. He’s apparently going to send more troops, which is just a recipe for more death and destruction: we cannot win, but if we send enough troops, we can stave off losing.
The several authors in your recent special issue on Afghanistan agree that Obama’s stated goal of defeating the terrorists is not achievable, and all suggest different routes to withdrawal. But watch: the Obama administration will not withdraw. Why? For the reason mentioned by none of your analysts, all apparently having accepted the administration’s "anti-terrorism" story: it’s all about (again) control of gas and oil; in this case pipelines. The administration has set the frame, and your analysts are running around within it. The Great Game goes on.
What is missing in this forum? Any discussion of what is good for the people of Afghanistan. It is false to say there is no way to help them. From the 1950s until 1979 the Soviets built schools, roads, hospitals and a secular society with rights for women. It was US support for the jihadi extremists that ended this progress and destroyed Afghanistan. The debate should be about how to help the people rebuild. To get back to creating jobs, building schools, hospitals, transportation and a government respecting human rights for all. We should do this not because it is best for us–it is–but because it is the right thing to do.
I’m not sure what Corey Robin means by Isaiah Berlin’s "feline hostility to the left" in his review of Quentin Skinner’s Hobbes and Republican Liberty ["The First Counterrevolutionary," Oct. 19]. "Graceful"? "Ungovernable"? "Independent"?
Probably not. Robin seems determined to turn Berlin into a Hobbesian by quoting him without citation or context, and portraying as definitive Berlin’s carefully qualified remark that freedom "is not incompatible with some kinds of autocracy." Berlin’s personal experience as a cultural attaché in the Soviet Union would have led him to a different conclusion; in 1946, immediately after Berlin visited Anna Akhmatova, Stalin banned publication of her work, citing her contact with "spies" from the West. And, of course, Berlin was aware of Stalin’s persecution of other writers–Mandelstam, Babel, Bulgakov–and cat-and-mouse relationship with Pasternak.